Josiah cast an eye down the street to ensure Nathan and Ezra had everything in hand before he crossed to the jail and let himself into the living area. The downstairs was deserted, but he could hear crying coming from upstairs. Walking softly he made his way up to the bedrooms. As he approached the top a new sound reached him. From Vin's room to the right of the stairs, he could hear chanting. The door was open and he was able to look in without moving it. Vin was sitting cross-legged in the centre of the old iron bed in the room. Across his lap lay Chris, he wasn't moving, but he was conscious, his unfocused eyes looking at nothing, or perhaps at something none of them could see. As he held him Vin was rocking gently and chanting in Comanche. Sanchez had no notion what the words meant but even he found it calming. Vin looked up and without a break in the chant he acknowledged Sanchez's presence.
Moving silently away, Josiah walked to the room at the other end of the attic. JD like Vin was sitting on his big double bed with a child on his lap. Dunne was leaning against the bed-head with Buck still wrapped around him; the only thing that had lessened his sobbing was fatigue. Nathan had been in and checked on JD's wounded arm. Thankfully the bullet had just grazed him. It hadn't been easy for the healer to stitch and bandage the arm while JD still hung on to Buck, but nothing was going to get him to let go so he just had to improvise.
JD was stroking Bucks hair and cheek and offering what verbal comfort he could but it didn't appear to be having any effect. Josiah sat himself down on the side of the bed and lay one huge hand on the small shaking back.
"Hey there little guy, you going to tell ol' Josiah what's wrong?" he asked in his softest voice.
Buck looked around to locate the source of the voice.
"I I want m m my Ma," he managed to get out between sobs. "I w w wan' her t' c c ome home."
JD just shook his head slightly as Buck turned back to bury his face once more in JD's shirt.
This has gone on long enough. Josiah thought. He has to understand, somehow. I have to make him understand and accept.
"Buck, look at me, son," Josiah commanded, the boy obeyed. "Buck, your mother went to God didn't she?"
Buck nodded mutely.
"Would you like me to show you what that means, what 'going to God' means and why your mamma can never come back?"
"But I I wan' h h her t' come back," Buck stated desperately.
"I know you do son, I know and I wish with all my heart that she could but she can't, please Buck come with me and I will show you why."
JD suddenly realised what it was Josiah was planning to do. "Josiah, no! He's too little, look at him, he's too upset!"
"No JD, this has to end now, there is never going to be a right time to do this, let me help him please," Josiah implored.
Buck looked from one adult to another, trying to work out what was going on. For a long time JD did nothing. Then he looked down at Buck who was gazing up at him through his dark curls as they fell over tear-reddened eyes. There it was again, that blind trust that JD found so scary. Why me? He asked himself. Why does he trust me of all people? So lost in thought was he that he almost didnt realise Josiah was speaking again.
"Its better if I do it, let me be the bad guy in this," he was saying.
Buck looked back at Josiah and frowned. "No Siah you a good guy not a bad man," he explained to the former priest.
Sanchez smiled at him. You always want everyone to be happy dont you little one. He thought. Well when Im done you will probably hate me but it will be for the best in the long run. "Well, will you promise to remember that?" he asked.
"Ill member it, I promise," Buck affirmed.
"And will you come with me now, let me show you?"
Buck was apprehensive. Somehow he knew Going to God was forever. But he kept telling himself she would come back. After all she had just gone to sleep. Then Miss Lou had told him his Ma was going to go to God soon, so he had to go to his room and be very quiet. That was the last time he had seen her. Two days later he was on a wagon with the doorman Hector on his way to the orphanage. He didnt attend a funeral; he never saw her body; so he was able to block out the truth that continually battered at his young defences.
But children are very intuitive and Buck somehow knew he had to know the truth, that he couldnt always have what he wanted, not even his mother, finally he nodded and unpeeling himself from JD reached his arms out to Sanchez.
+ + + + + + +
Four Corners didnt have its own undertaker. A local carpenter made coffins and the livery keeper Tiny laid out the bodies and transported them on a lighter than average buckboard, which had a rail around it rather than boards; for a small extra fee he would cover it in a black drape and put a black blanket over the horse. Josiah carried Buck over to the little room at the back of the livery, with JD following them. He knocked once and almost instantly Tiny came to the door. There was a muttered conversation that neither Buck nor JD could follow, then Tiny nodded his head and Sanchez entered the dark room still carrying Buck on his hip. In the centre of the room was a low trestle table, and on the table was an open rough pine coffin. Buck caught a glimpse of this and then looked away. But Sanchez approached the box and looked down. Johnny Jones lay peaceful in his coffin, the fatal wound in his head clean and blood free.
"Buck I want you to look in the coffin, look at the man," Josiah said quietly in the boy's ear.
Buck just shook his head, if he didn't look it wasn't there, it wasn't real.
"Please Buck trust me, youre a brave boy, just one little look," Josiah was rubbing his hand on Buck's back as he spoke.
Finally and very slowly Buck turned his head against Josiah's shirt to peek out past his huge arm at the corpse.
"This is the man you saw isn't it?" Josiah asked.
"You saw him die didn't you?"
"You know he's dead, don't you?"
"Y y yes."
Josiah picked up the dead mans hand and held it in his. "Buck, I want you to touch his hand and than touch my hand." Out of the corner of his eye he could see JD about to object, but was able to stop him with a quick frown.
Very slowly one small arm unwound itself from the form held close against Josiah's chest. The equally small hand reached out to place a single finger on the back of the dead man's hand. Then quickly it lovingly stroked Josiah's warm sun-tanned flesh, before Josiah put the dead hand down.
"Did they feel different?" Josiah asked
"You're all warm," Buck said by way of an answer.
Josiah looked up at JD and beckoned him over. JD didn't know what he had planned but came. Once he was standing close to them, Josiah reached out and pushing the younger mans shirt aside lay his hand on JD's chest until he found his heart. Then he took Buck's small hand and guided it to the same spot. JD meantime stood quite still.
"What do you feel?" Josiah asked the boy.
Buck frowned not knowing what he was expected to say. "Warm?" he ventured.
"Yes, what else?"
"Umm bumping?" Buck looked up at Josiah to see if that was right and was rewarded with a grin.
"Yes, bumping. That is JD's heart beating, I have one and so do you, here." He moved Buck's hand first to his own heart then finally on to the boy's heart. Then he took the small hand and moved it toward the dead man. Buck resisted as first but quickly let Josiah take control, letting his hand be placed over the dead man's chest.
"Do you feel any bumping?" Sanchez asked quietly.
Buck pulled his hand away shaking his head.
"That is because he is dead, he is cold and his heart does not beat because he is dead. Now we are going to put a lid on the box." The ex-priest looked up at Tiny still standing unobtrusively in the corner of the room and nodded. The huge man came forward and lifting the coffin lid from where it rested against the side of the table placed it on the coffin.
"And Tiny is going to nail it down." They all watched as the coffin lid was quickly and efficiently secured. "Later today the coffin will be put on a wagon and taken to the cemetery, and that is where we are going to go next, all right?" In response Buck nodded.
+ + + + + + +
The walk to the town's small burial ground was accomplished in silence. Buck refused to get down and walk so Josiah carried him the whole way. It wasn't much to look at, the boundary fence was falling down and many of the older wooden crosses were rotten and crumbling. Sanchez selected one of the newer, better looking graves and stood in front of it.
"Now Buck, when the coffin with the dead body in it comes here, some men will dig a big hole in the ground and the coffin will be put in the hole and then it will be buried, and no one will ever see it or the body inside again."
He waited while Buck worked on this piece of information.
"Buck?" Sanchez finally asked.
"Yes," came a small voice.
"Have you ever been to a place like this before?" This only brought a small shake of the head from the small boy. "Did you ever see your Ma in a box?" Another shake.
Finally it was becoming clear to the men why little Buck had such difficulty understanding that his mother was gone forever. Josiah carried the boy over to a log and sat down. JD sat beside him close to Buck.
"Buck when you die, like the man in the box, that is when you go to God." Josiah said simply. "Going to God means a person died, their body was put in a box and buried."
"Did they put my Ma in a box?" Buck finally asked.
"Yes they did."
"And putted her in a hole?"
"Yes son I'm afraid so."
"Nooooo!" Buck suddenly wailed. "They can't put my Ma in a hole, no make them take her out, make them take her out please JD, please make 'um!" He squirmed in Josiah's arms and reached for JD who took him with out a second thought. "Please JD pro...tec her like you pro tec me an' Chris, please, please."
JD had to fight his own emotions before he could respond. "I can't son, I can't, I wish I could but I can't, I couldn't stop them putting my mamma in a hole and I can't bring your mamma back, I'm sorry, I wish I could, I'd give anything to be able to do that but no one can, no one."
As Josiah watched both boys (and in truth JD was in many ways still a boy) weep together, their raven black hair intermingling as JD bent his head to rest it on Bucks little shoulder. Josiah wasn't done, but he had to let the two of them cry themselves out first. It took some time but in the end JD looked up and wiped away the residual tears with his sleeve, then he reached into his back pocket and produced one of the hankies Gloria Potter had persuaded him to purchase. Using this he cleaned Buck up bit before Sanchez continued.
"Buck?" he began. Instantly Buck turned away.
"I don't like you, I don't wanna talk to you no more," his words were muffled by JD's shirt but it was clear enough.
"I know," Josiah continued, "but you have to hear it all, because there is more you have to know."
"No don't wanna!" Buck stated firmly. "Go away!"
JD knew Josiah would not leave the boy with this void, there had to be more and painful as it was he had to hear it.
"Buck," he said softly. "I think you should listen to Josiah." All he got was a shake of the head. "Please Buck, trust me, listen to Josiah."
Buck finally pulled his head up off JD's chest to look into the eyes of the young sheriff. "Do I have to?" he asked quietly.
JD didn't want to come down like the heavy parent but this was important. "Yes you do, be brave and listen, you know Josiah doesn't want to make you sad, he wants to help you understand."
Buck said nothing but he turned his head to Josiah. "Please tell me, Mr Josiah," he said quietly.
Just like JD before him, Josiah now felt the weight of having Buck's total trust.
"There is more to a person than their body," he began. "When we die it is only our body that dies. Inside us we have a spirit, some people call it a soul. It is our soul that makes us who we are, that makes us laugh and smile, cry and shout, it is our soul that others love. God gives us our soul when we are born and when our body is too old, or too sick or too damaged to keep going God takes our soul back to Him, because He loves us, all of us. That is why we say people 'go to God', it is not their body that goes to God, it is their soul. We can't see it, or hear it or feel it, but that is what goes to God; the soul." He had no idea if the four-year-old could understand him; he had no experience when it came to explaining such complex matters to children.
"Did Ma's soul go to God?" Buck asked.
"Yes it did."
"Will God be nice to Ma?"
"God is nice to everyone, but especially to mothers."
"Is she happy with God?"
"Yes she is happy."
"But Ma always says she is sad when she isn't with me." Buck looked very serious.
"Well you see, she is with you. Put your hand on your heart again, like we did before." Buck obeyed; Josiah reached forward to make sure he had his hand on the right spot. "Now do you feel your heart?" Buck nodded. "Listen to it, feel it." The boy sat very quietly for a while with his hand on his heart for some time. Finally Josiah spoke again. "Now does your heart go 'boom boom boom, or does it go, b boom b boom b boom?" he asked.
Buck's little face frowned, finally he said. "It goes b boom," he stated firmly.
"Yes it does. Now when God took your mamma's soul back to him -do you remember why he did that?"
"Because he loves my Ma," Buck replied, quick as a flash with even a faint smile.
"Good boy, thats right. Now when he did that he left a little bit of her soul behind, do you know where?"
Buck shook his head. Josiah reached across and placed his hand over Buck's chest. "Right here, in your heart, and if you listen to your heart you can feel it, it's as if you have two hearts, yours and a little piece of your Ma's. So you see, even though you will never see her again, she is always with you." He patted Buck's heart. "Right here."
Buck put his hand on his heart again and looked down. "I love you Ma. I wished you were here and not with God but I'm glad yer happy I miss you." And then the tears returned. Not the wailing of earlier, this was almost silent as a small boy finally accepted what deep down he knew, that he would never see his beloved mother again.
+ + + + + + +
Vin had no idea if he was doing the right thing. The chant was nothing special; it was in praise of the moon. Vin had always liked it and remembered it. There had always been something about the rhythm and repetition that he had found soothing. More then once when he found himself hurt and alone he had chanted it to help block out the hurt and the loneliness. And as to the rocking, well that was just the most natural thing to do with a child who was distressed. He had no notion of how long he had sat there on the bed with the unresponsive boy. Josiah and come to the door and looked in and then left. Some time later Nathan had come to the door and silently asked if Chris was hurt, he had indicated no, then the ever caring healer had asked if he needed help, again he indicated no. He thought he vaguely heard Ezra's voice downstairs talking to Nathan but he couldn't be sure.
From the angle of the sun Vin knew he had been there hours when suddenly he felt the limp form in his arms tense. He stopped rocking and chanting. "Chris?" he whispered.
Suddenly the boy was struggling to get away. Vin sat very still not trying to touch or impede Chris in any way, as the clearly terrified boy shot off the bed and ran to the corner of the unfamiliar room. For a second it looked like he would stay there, but then he bolted for the half open door. Vin, instinct telling him to treat Chris as the frightened animal he was behaving like, followed at a distance. Chris ran down out into the street and stopped dead, he scanned the now peaceful street until his eyes lit upon something and he was off and running again. With Vin in pursuit, he ran to the store and stopped. He just stood in front of the shop front staring at it. Eventually he moved forward and stroked the doorframe and the window glass. Inside Gloria Potter frowned and was about to come and investigate when she saw Vin wave her off. Chris had turned he attention to the sidewalk outside the store. As Vin watched he knelt and examined the rough planks, laying his hand flat on them and sweeping it back and forth. Vin had to bite back the urge to warn him about splinters, as Chris continued to investigate the wood beneath him.
Finally Chris stood up his eyes now scanning the street again, before Vin knew it he was off and running again this time toward the blacksmith beside the livery. As Vin entered the dark barn he could make out Chris' blonde head somewhere in front of him, he appeared to be checking every stall, examining the horses. Eventually he reached Peso. Now Vin was in a dilemma; let the boy finish whatever he was doing and risk the him getting bit or kicked if Peso was in a mood, or stop him and risk interrupting whatever was going on in his head. In the end he let him continue. Peso you hurt him and yer dog meat, you here me! Tanner glared at his ill-tempered mount. The horse looked around as the small boy walked up to him, then he looked at his master standing behind him. It seemed to Vin the horse sighed as if to say 'this one is too small to worry about'. Chris moved on, he examined Pony as if he had never seen the horse before. Chris walked to the back of the barn and sank down, resting against the far wall with his knees pulled up to his chest and his head down he begin to rock gently back and forth.
He made such a desolate, lonely figure Vin was heartbroken as he approached. Mindful of the feral hunted look there had been in Chris' eyes, he didn't get too close. The last thing he wanted was to frighten Chris more.
"Chris?" he called softly. "Chris it's me Vin, ya remember me?" He got no response. "This is Four Corners, you came here a few days ago with Buck. You remember Buck? Little guy dark hair, big dark blue eyes, huge smile? Youre his friend, you look after him." Still he got no response. "Buck's all right, he's with JD and Josiah but he needs you too. Buck needs you Chris." It was a dirty trick, playing on the boy's sense of responsibility but it finally got a reaction. Very slowly a small blonde head came up.
If the sight of the huddled Chris had been heart breaking this was soul destroying, the normally bright passionate hazel green eyes were dark and lost, it was almost as if they had shrunk back into the boy's skull, even in the poor light he looked ashen. Vin had been squatting now he slowly sat down cross-legged. He had seen that look before, this was more than shock, this was something much deeper.
"Chris what happened out there on the street was very scary, anyone would be scared, hell I was scared, but that isn't what I wrong is it?"
Very, very slowly Chris shook his head and then looked down again.
"Chris did you have a vision? Did you see things that no one else could see?" He didn't want to say 'that weren't there' he didn't want the boy to feel he was a freak or that it was something he had to hide. Comanches had visions; they actively sought them out and put great store in them. Vin had even had one himself when he wasn't much older than Chris.
Chris' eyes widened in amazement, Vin understood, suddenly it didn't seem so scary. He nodded.
"Visions are always important, you need to tell me what you saw, please tell me what you saw."
Chris wasn't sure, he didn't want to think about it any more, the images were scary, bad things happened. He looked down at his hands and began to rub them as if trying to rid himself of some invisible mark or stain.
"Chris please tell me, so I can help you," Vin implored.
Chris shook his head. Taking a chance Vin shuffled closer, close enough to be able to take Chris' small hands in his. At first the boy shied away, pulling back. But Vin didn't let go, as if he were gentling a wild horse he began to stroke his thumbs over the back of Chris hands until the boy relaxed. Even when he looked up at Vin again the stroking continued.
"Will you tell me what you saw?" he asked again.
This time he got a small nod.
The voice was very quiet; there was non of the usual Chris confidence and defiance.
"I was in a town," he began. "It was like here but not here. I was watching and a boy came out of the store, he was Buck's age - no older I think - anyways he ran across the street toward the livery. And suddenly there was a loud noise and the boy didn't know what it was so he just stood still and and and then " His head went back down and he fell silent.
Vin reached over and placed a single finger under his chin and lifted his head again. "Let me help you Chris," he implored.
"Then there was a man," Chris continued. "And he was outside the store with a lady and the lady screamed and the man pushed her behind him and he shouted at the boy."
Just as JD shouted at you, Vin thought.
"Then the boy looked at the man and he grabbed his throat and the lady behind him fell down. And I I I ran to him." The change from third party to first part had not escaped Vin but Chris seemed unaware of it. "And there was blood all over blood and on her too, her head and and she she w w as staring at me but she couldn't see me." He looked up. "Vin she was looking at me but she couldn't see me and there was all this blood on her. I don't understand!"
Chris went back into his tight defensive ball, back to rocking back and forth. Meanwhile Vin tried to put together the story he had just heard. Chris, he was sure the boy was Chris, had run out of a store ahead of his parents, a gun fight has broken out and Chris' pa had been shot in the throat, it seemed likely the same bullet had passed through him to kill his wife - Chris' ma - as she sheltered behind him. Chris had told him he could remember entering a small town and he remembered a funeral but nothing in between. If this was what had happened to his family it wasn't any wonder his mind had blocked it out.
Not once had Vin let go of Chris' thin wrists or stopped the gentle stroking on the back of his hand.
"Chris look at me please," Vin requested. Slowly the boy obeyed. "Was the boy you?" he asked softly. "Was it you who ran out of the store?" Eyes wide with fear Chris nodded. "I killed them, I killed Mom and Papa."
Oh shit! Vin thought. I didn't expect that! Oh hell now what?
"No Chris, no! Oh God no! You didn't, some bad men with gun did not you, never you, never," he pleaded with the boy, almost begging for him to believe.
"Yes I did I wanted to see the blacksmith " He looked up in desperation. " I ran ahead, if I had stayed with Pa and done like he told me when he shouted, the man wouldn't have shot him, it's my fault, it my fault, it's all my fault!" Suddenly he was up and moving faster than Vin would have believed, he was out of the barn before Vin was on his feet.
Chris was running hard, he didn't know where or why he just had to get away, get as far away as possible from the hurt, from his own guilt. He was a bad person, he had killed his own parents, no one would want him now, Vin must hate him. Little Buck, who loved his mother so much, would never want be friends with someone who killed his own mom. Everyone hated him, especially himself, for no one could hate him as much as he did.
Vin ran behind the fleeing child, just far enough to keep an eye on him but not so close he felt he was being followed. After a while Vin as blowing hard, the damn kid was fit and fast but he kept going. Eventually even Chris began to tire and slow down, finally stopping. When Vin came upon him he was curled in a foetal position in a clump of rocks.
"It's not true," that was the first thing he said as he sat beside the distraught boy. Gently laying a hand on his back. "You didn't kill yer parents. It was jist bad luck you bein' in that town on that day, at that time, that's all. Lots of boys run ahead of their ma and pa. It don't make you bad. Any kid suddenly caught in the middle of a gun battle might freeze, I know'd lots a grown ups do it. First battle I's in I was so scared I pissed m' pant's and I's a lot older than you." A small movement in the form below him told Vin he was getting through. "It was jist bad luck, there's no reason anyone was shootin' at yer Pa, so it was jist a stray shot. If'n he'd ducked might jist as likely took one low down, ain't no way t' know. It wasn't 'cause of you. Yer folk don't want you t' blame yerself, don't ya think they's happy you're not dead, don't ya reck'n they'd want ya t' be happy?"
Desperate eyes turned on him, pleading for it to be true, that the nightmare would end.
"Why don't you come on up from them rocks?" Vin suggested.
Very slowly Chris uncurled himself and gingerly moved closer to Vin who was sitting with his back propped against the rocks. Chris finally sat next to him and allowed Vin to put an arm around his shoulders and pull him in closer.
"No one killed yer folks 'sept the man that fired the gun, no one." Vin firmly attested.
"Vin," Chris started quietly. "I can't remember their faces; before b before the blood I can't." Vin looked down to see, for the very first time, tears rolling down Chris cheeks. "When I th..th think of them now all I c'in see is the blood!" He turned and lay his head on Vin's lap. "I don't wanna see it b..b..but I can't stop it, make it stop Vin, p p please," he pleaded.
Vin lay his hand on Chris head, letting his fingers run through Chris' corn blonde hair. "For a while after my Ma died I could remember her, her smile, her laugh but if faded and all I could see was her on the bed, dying, pale and gasping fer every breath. For a long time that was all I could remember, I used t' close m' eyes and wish it away but it wouldn't go. Then I didn't want it t' go 'cause it was all I had left, even though it was a bad picture it was better an' none."
Vin hadn't thought about this for a long time and he hadn't told anyone, ever. There was just something about Chris, something that called to him. The boy was so in need of love, of comfort, he took responsibility for Buck, for both of them, but he so desperately wanted some one to look after him. And yet he couldn't ask for help. Vin was convinced it wasn't that he didn't want to ask, he just didn't know how.
"I ain't gonna lie t' ya my brave warrior," Vin continued. "In the end even that picture faded away, can't tell ya how long it took but it's b'in a long time since I could bring her face t' mind, but it don't mean I didn't love her. I carry the memory of her love in m' heart, right here." He placed his hand over his heart. Chris looked up from his pillow on Vin's lap. "An' you will always carry the memory of yer parents love here." And he placed his hand on Chris' heart.
Chris blinked though his tears, then he rolled over in Vin's lap to wrap his arms around Vin's waist and cried and cried until his heart could cry no more, holding on for dear life to the only person he believed could understand his pain. When the tears dried up Vin looked down to find the boy was asleep. Scooping him up in his arms, he set out for town. In truth he had forgotten how far the two of them had come and Chris was heavier than he looked, or rather he became heavy as Vin trudged on, but at no time did he falter or ever consider waking the emotionally and physically exhausted boy.
+ + + + + + +
When Chris woke he was in his own bed, Vin was sitting beside him on the bed smiling at him.
"Am I still your brave warrior?" he asked sleepily.
"Always. You hungry?" In response Chris' stomach rumbled.
"Reckon so," he admitted.
Buck, Josiah and JD had returned sometime while he and Chris were out, they had already eaten and now Ezra was showing Buck his card tricks. Buck's happy laughter drifted upstairs.
"He sounds happy," Chris commented as he pulled himself up to sit beside Vin.
"Yup, wanna join him?" Chris wrapped his arms around Vin. "In a minute," he suggested as Vin's arm wrapped itself around him. "In a minute."
+ + + + + + +
Orin Travis had found himself as acting sheriff, he got to see the rough side of the law for a while. The one remaining Jones gang member not dead or dying, complained bitterly, loudly and coarsely about everything. By the time Nathan actually arrived with his food the good judge was ready to kill the man there and then. His respect for the men he had employed was growing, how the hell they put up with this kind of scum was almost beyond Travis.
"I ain't eatin' food some darky's had his hands on!" he complained.
Travis finally snapped.
"Look you miserable piece of shit! I'm the judge, so if you want even a slim chance of not dancing on the end of a rope I suggest you shut the hell up and try saying 'please' an' 'thank you' a little more! Got it!"
It wasn't exactly how an impartial justice should act but he didn't care, beside he had other more pressing matters on his mind.
Josiah had taken the time to fill Travis in with the details of both boys reactions to the shooting, though he had only received a sketchy outline from Vin. And it was this he was concentrating on when Josiah came to see him for a second time.
"Judge you have see those boys belong here, they need to be here. It all but broke my heart to see young Buck so upset. But who does he turn to, to JD that's who. JD may not be very old himself but he has the boys trust and the love between them is mutual. Them Brothers was right about one thing, ain't many 'respectable' families will take a child like Buck, not an' treat him right anyway. And as for Chris, from what I've seen this was the most likely the first time he had trusted any adult since his folk were killed, it is damn unlikely if he feels betrayed again he'll never trust anyone again. Do you know what could happen to him like that, how lonely he'll be, how dangerous he could be?"
"Josiah stop." The judge put up his hand to emphasise his point. "You're preaching to the choir my friend."
"I always wanted the boys to be able to stay, especially after I spoke to them but it had to be done right. Think how much worse it would have been if they had stayed and got settled then someone had turned up and claimed them. It had to be legally safe."
"So what has changed?" Josiah asked.
+ + + + + + +
"Chris! Chris looked Mr Ezra c'in do magic look!" Buck exclaimed when Chris, followed by Vin, made his way downstairs still looking a little sleep crumpled.
Chris looked across the room to where Buck and Ezra were sitting on the rug in front of the fire.
"I will Buck when I've had some food, all right?" Even as he said it he was eyeing the half demolished plate of sandwiches, fruitcake and pitcher of lemonade on the table.
He and Vin had just finished when Josiah and the Judge came in, followed by Nathan. He signed to Ezra and JD who was sitting in the armchair watching Ezra's sleight of hand amuse Buck. Vin saw the look in the judge's face and knew he too was needed.
"Chris would you go and keep Buck company a moment?" he asked.
Chris looked up from his slice of cake, worry writ large on his face again.
"Take some cake for Buck, everything will be all right. Trust me?" Vin said softly.
Chris nodded and with a second slice of cake he walked over to Buck, as the adults spoke in hushed tones at the far end of the room.
"I don't understand Judge," Vin was saying as JD joined them. "You said there was no way to make any of us their guardians."
"And there isn't but I'm not going to make you their guardians, I'm going to make you their protectors. I just hope they want it."
Not long after Vin, Chris, JD and Buck - sitting on JD's knee- were on the couch while the Judge sat opposite with the others standing behind him.
"Chris? Buck?" Travis looked from one boy to another. "How would you like to live here, with Vin and JD for ever, for this to be your new home, your new family?"
Buck was about to shout 'yeah' but stopped and looked at Chris for a lead. Chris knew what was best. Chris just looked at Travis trying to decide if he was telling the truth or not. Finally he looked up at Vin for help. Josiah was right he is finally going to look for some help. Travis realised. Vin just smiled down at him.
"It's your choice, what do you want?" Vin asked quietly.
Chris looked over at Buck who was staring at him, almost imploring him to say yes. Seeing Chris' indecision Vin decided to offer some help.
"Your Pa wanted you to go West to find a new home didn't he?" He looked down at Chris who nodded. "Four Corners is in the West, and we I am offering you a new home, you and Buck. No more running, no more hiding, your own bed in your own room, food on the table, boots on your feet and well, care." Vin was struggling to express how much he already cared for the boy, how much care, attention and love he would give if Chris agreed to stay. "I know it won't be a real family, no mom, no real house, just here, and if you don't want to stay we will look after you and help you find another home."
How could Vin think he would want to live any place else? Chris asked himself. His only worry was would they be safe? Where they far enough away from where they had come from. But the more he looked at Buck's pleading look and Vin's confident smile the more he knew he had to stay.
"I want to stay," he said very quietly.
"ME TOO! ME TOO!" Buck shouted instantly.
"Yes you too," JD assured.
"Very good," Travis announced. "Now in order for you to stay here legally I need you to tell me your other names."
Chris suddenly looked worried.
"Chris, this is important, I can't protect you with the law otherwise," the judge explained.
"You can trust the Judge Chris," Vin assured.
With one look at Buck he took a deep breath. "My name is Larabee and Buck's is "
"Wilmington!" Buck interrupted. "I know my name!" he stated with a pout.
All the men suddenly laughed, causing the boys to look around the room with puzzlement.
"Very well, now listen because you gentlemen are all witnesses," the judge was in formal - official mode. "With all the power vested in me I place Christopher Larabee and Buck Wilmington, both minor children, into the protective custody of Vincent James Tanner and John Daniel Dunne both duly appointed officers of the court; as material witnesses in the attempted murder of the said Vincent Tanner and Judge Orin Travis and the justifiable homicides of five " he looked at Nathan for conformation, the healer nodded. "Five men on this day."
With that he stood up and smiled at his regulators. "Who knows how long I can keep the investigation going, the wheels of the legal system can grind exceedingly slowly you know."
Chris looked at him and then at Vin. "What does that mean?" he asked.
"It means young man," Ezra stared. "That no one can take you or young Master Buck away from your new guardians unless the Judge lets them," he explained.
"Will you ever let them?" Buck asked fixing Travis with his deep blue eyes.
Aware Chris was also staring at him Travis smiled. "Only if you ask me to."
Buck turned and put his arms around JD's neck. "I won't never ever," he stated firmly.
Chris in turn put his arms around Vin and lay his head against Vin's chest. "Me neither."
+ + + + + + +
"Chris?" Chris was surprised by the voice. They had been in bed for a good few hours, goodnight stories and hugs were a long time ago.
"Do ya need t' go?" Chris asked Buck, as they lay together in the soft bad.
"No Chris, Josiah told me a secret today." Buck's voice was strangely serious sounding.
"Do you want to tell it me?"
"Yes he told me some of my Ma's heart is in me and I will have it in me for ever and ever, he even showed me how to find it."
"Yeah, if you putted your hand over yer heart you can feel it and it goes b boom, thats the little bit of my Ma's heart in me." Buck reached over and took Chris' hand and put it over his heart. "Can you feel her?"
Chris smiled in the gloom, he could indeed. "Yes I feel her."
"Is your Ma and Pa in your heart?" Buck rolled over and put his hand on Chris' chest. Chris waited patiently; finally Buck pulled his hand back. "Yup I can feel 'um."
"I know, Vin told me too. Guess we're lucky to have them so close all the time."
"Yeah. Night Chris."
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